The Bible’s Viewpoint
Pornography—Is It Just a Harmless Diversion?
WHEN Victorian archaeologists began systematically excavating the ancient ruins of Pompeii, they were shocked at what they uncovered. Scattered freely among the beautiful frescoes and artwork were many sexually explicit paintings and sculptures. Appalled by their lurid nature, the authorities stashed them in secret museums. They coined the term “pornography”—from the Greek pornē and graphos, meaning “writing about prostitutes”—to classify these explicit artifacts. Today pornography is defined as “the representation of erotic behaviour in books, pictures, statues, motion pictures, etc., that is intended to cause sexual excitement.”
These days, pornography is all-pervasive and appears to be accepted in most of modern society. Where once it was the province of disreputable cinemas and red-light districts, it is now eminently mainstream in many communities. In the United States alone, pornography generates more than ten billion dollars annually!
Some defenders promote pornography as a way to spice up a dull marriage. Says one writer: “It stimulates an active fantasy life. It offers instruction for sexual pleasure.” Others claim that it encourages frankness and openness about sexual matters. “Pornography benefits women,” claims writer Wendy McElroy.
But not everyone agrees. Pornography has often been linked to a wide range of harmful outcomes and attitudes. Some suggest a connection between pornography and rape as well as other forms of violence against women and children. Infamous serial killer Ted Bundy admits that he had a “strong appetite for violent pornography.” He says: “This condition is not immediately seen by the individual or identified as a serious problem. . . . But this interest . . . becomes geared towards matters of a sexual nature that involve violence. I cannot emphasize enough the gradual development of this. It is not short-term.”
In light of the endless debate and the prevalence of pornographic material today, you might wonder, ‘Does the Bible offer any guidance in this matter?’
The Bible Is Frank About Sex
In the Bible, sexual matters are dealt with candidly and without shame. (Deuteronomy 24:5; 1 Corinthians 7:3, 4) “Rejoice with the wife of your youth,” counseled Solomon. “Let her own breasts intoxicate you at all times.” (Proverbs 5:18, 19) Clear advice and counsel are given regarding sexual relations, including the limits within which they should be enjoyed. Sex outside of the marriage arrangement is forbidden. So are all forms of deviant and perverted sexual practices.—Leviticus 18:22, 23; 1 Corinthians 6:9; Galatians 5:19.
Even within these boundaries, restraint and respect are expected. “Let marriage be honorable among all,” wrote the apostle Paul, “and the marriage bed be without defilement.” (Hebrews 13:4) This counsel is in stark contrast with the intent and message of pornography.
Pornography Distorts Sex
Rather than portraying sexual relations as a beautiful and intimate expression of love between a man and a woman in honorable marriage, pornography demeans and distorts the sexual act. Casual and perverted sex are portrayed as exciting and desirable. Personal gratification with little or no regard for the other person is highlighted.
Women, men, and children are portrayed as objects that exist only for sexual gratification. “Beauty is measured by proportion of body parts, shaping unrealistic expectations,” says one report. “Depicting women as anonymous, ever-wanting/waiting, empty sex toys for men, stripping and exposing their bodies for monetary gain and entertainment cannot possibly translate into a message that can exist in harmony with equality, dignity and humanity,” concludes another report.
On the contrary, love “does not behave indecently,” wrote Paul. “[It] does not look for its own interests.” (1 Corinthians 13:5) The Bible exhorts men to ‘love their wives as their own bodies’ and to ‘assign them honor,’ not to view women as merely objects for sexual gratification. (Ephesians 5:28; 1 Peter 3:7) Is someone, whether male or female, who regularly feeds on sexually explicit images of other people truly behaving decently? And is that person really showing honor and respect? Instead of love, pornography cultivates self-centered, selfish desire.
There is also another factor. Soon, like any other improper stimulation, what initially arouses becomes mundane and routine. “Over time,” says one writer, “[the users of pornography] require more explicit and deviant material . . . They may push their partners into increasingly bizarre sexual activities . . . , diminishing their [own] capacity to express real affection.” Does that sound like a harmless diversion? But there is another important reason to avoid pornography.
The Bible and Lust
While many today feel that there is nothing wrong or dangerous about feeding sexual fantasies, the Bible disagrees. It clearly explains that there is an intrinsic relationship between what we feed on mentally and how we act. “Each one is tried by being drawn out and enticed by his own desire,” points out the Christian disciple James. “Then the desire, when it has become fertile, gives birth to sin.” (James 1:14, 15) Jesus said: “Everyone that keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”—Matthew 5:28.
As James and Jesus both indicate, humans act on the impulse of internal desires. Those desires, when fed and nourished, can in time become powerful obsessions. Obsessions are very hard to resist and can eventually push a person into action. Thus, what we introduce into our minds can have a powerful effect on what we eventually do.
Sexual fantasies can directly interfere with our worship of God. That is why Paul wrote: “Deaden, therefore, your body members . . . as respects fornication, uncleanness, sexual appetite, hurtful desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”—Colossians 3:5.
Paul here links sexual appetite with covetousness, which is an inordinate desire for something that one does not have.* Covetousness is a form of idolatry. Why? Because the one coveting puts that desired thing before all else, including God. Pornography stimulates lust for something that one does not possess. “You want somebody else’s sexual life. . . . You can have nothing in your mind but that appetite for what you lack. . . . What we lust for, we worship,” says one religion writer.
“Whatever things are chaste, whatever things are lovable, whatever things are well spoken of, whatever virtue there is . . . , continue considering these things,” exhorts the Bible. (Philippians 4:8) A person who feeds his eyes and mind on pornography is rejecting Paul’s exhortation. Pornography is immodest because it shamelessly exposes the most intimate and private acts to public view. It is hateful because it demeans and dehumanizes people. It is unloving because it does not promote either tenderness or caring. It merely promotes selfish lust.
By gratuitously portraying immoral and lewd acts, pornography undercuts or sabotages a Christian’s efforts to develop a ‘hatred for what is bad.’ (Amos 5:15) It highlights the committing of sin and is in stark violation of Paul’s encouragement to the Ephesians to “let fornication and uncleanness of every sort or greediness not even be mentioned among you, just as it befits holy people; neither shameful conduct . . . nor obscene jesting, things which are not becoming.”—Ephesians 5:3, 4.
There is nothing harmless about pornography. It is exploitive and corrupting. It can destroy relationships, perverting the natural expression of sexual intimacy into a voyeuristic activity. It poisons the mind and spirituality of the voyeur. It promotes selfish, greedy attitudes and teaches people to view others as objects fit only to satisfy their lust. It undermines efforts to do good and have a clean conscience. Most important, it can hamper or even destroy one’s spiritual relationship with God. (Ephesians 4:17-19) Truly, pornography is a scourge to be avoided.—Proverbs 4:14, 15.
Paul was not here talking about normal sexual appetite—the desire to have normal sexual intimacy with one’s marriage mate.
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Pornography distorts one’s view of the opposite sex